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The English word football may mean any one of several team sports (or the ball used in that respective sport), depending on the national or regional origin and location of the person using the word. So where English is a first language the unqualified use of the word football is used to refer to the most popular code of football in that region. The sports most frequently referred to as simply football are association football (soccer), American football, Australian rules football, Canadian football, Gaelic football, rugby league football and rugby union football.
Of the 45 national FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) affiliates in which English is an official or primary language, 43 use football in their organisations' official names (Canada and the United States use soccer). Soccer is the prevailing term for association football in the U.S. and Canada, where other codes of football are dominant. In 2005, Australia's association football governing body changed its name from soccer to football to align with the general international usage of the term. In 2006, New Zealand decided to follow suit.
There are also many other languages where the common term for association football is phonetically similar to the English term football. (See the Names for association football article.)
An early reference to a ball game that was probably football comes from 1280 at Ulgham, Northumberland, England: "Henry... while playing at ball.. ran against David". Football was played in Ireland in 1308, with a documented reference to John McCrocan, a spectator at a "football game" at Newcastle, County Down being charged with accidentally stabbing a player named William Bernard. Another reference to a football game comes in 1321 at Shouldham, Norfolk, England: "during the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his... ran against him and wounded himself".
Although the accepted etymology of the word football, or "foot ball", originated in reference to the action of a foot kicking a ball, this may be a false etymology. An alternative explanation has it that the word originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe, which were played on foot. These sports were usually played by peasants, as opposed to the horse-riding sports more often enjoyed by aristocrats. In some cases, the word has been applied to games which involved carrying a ball and specifically banned kicking. For example, the English writer William Hone, writing in 1825 or 1826, quotes the social commentator Sir Frederick Morton Eden, regarding a game — which Hone refers to as "Foot-Ball" — played in the parish of Scone, Perthshire:
The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, run [sic] with it till overtaken by one of the opposite part; and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he run on; if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no person was allowed to kick it. [Emphasis added.]
Conversely, in 1363, King Edward III of England issued a proclamation banning "...handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games", suggesting that "football" was in fact being differentiated from games that involved other parts of the body.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records that the first written use of the word "football" used to describe a game was in 1424 in an Act forbidding it. The first written use of the word football to describe the ball was 1486, and that the first use as a verb (hence footballing) was in 1599. Although the OED just indicates it is a compound of foot and ball, the 1486 definition indicates that a ball was of the essence of the game.
The word "soccer" originated as an Oxford "-er" slang abbreviation of "association", and is credited to late nineteenth century English footballer, Charles Wreford-Brown. However, like the William Webb Ellis rugby story, it is believed to be most likely apocryphal. There is also the sometimes-heard variation, "soccer football".
Within Australia the term "football" is ambiguous and can mean up to four different codes of football in Australian English, depending on the context, geographical location and cultural factors; this includes Association football, Australian rules football, rugby league, and rugby union. In the states of Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania the slang term footy is also used in an unofficial context, while in these states the two rugby football codes are called rugby. There is a different situation in New South Wales, Queensland and ACT, where rugby union or rugby league are most popular, and football can refer to those codes. Australia-wide, soccer is commonly used to describe association football, with this usage going back more than a century, with football gaining limited traction since Soccer Australia was renamed Football Federation Australia in 2005
In Canada, "football" rarely refers to association football, but most often refers to Canadian football or American football, often differentiated as either "CFL" (from the governing Canadian Football League) or "NFL" (from the US National Football League). Because of the similarity between the games, many people in both countries do not consider the two styles of gridiron football separate sports per se, but rather different codes of the same sport which has a shared origin in the Harvard vs McGill game played in 1874 credited with the creation of this sport. If a Canadian were to say, "My brother plays football in the States", it would be clear from context that American football is meant.  Canadian French usage parallels English usage, with le football usually referring to Canadian or American football, and le soccer referring to association football. When there is ambiguity, le football canadien or le football américain is used.
Rugby union football in Canada is almost always referred to simply as "rugby", as there is no professional rugby league in the country.
In most of the English-speaking Caribbean, "football" and "soccer" are both used to refer to association football, but use of the word "football" is far more common. The exception is the Bahamas, where the term "football" is used exclusively (while not actually in the Caribbean, usage in Bermuda follows that of the Bahamas). The nickname of the Trinidad and Tobago team, "The Soca Warriors", refers to a style of music, not the word soccer.
New Zealand Football is the governing body for association football in the country. The term can also be used to refer to rugby league or union, better-known as simply rugby. The slang term footy generally only means either of the two codes of rugby football, while rugby league is traditionally known as rugby league or just league. Usage of the term soccer has gone through a period of transition in recent times as the federation changed its name to New Zealand Football from New Zealand Soccer and the nickname of its women's team to Football Ferns from SWANZ.
In South Africa, the word football generally refers to association football. However, association football is commonly known as soccer despite this. The domestic first division is the Premier Soccer League and both in conversation and the media (see e.g. The Sowetan or Independent Online), the term "soccer" is used. The stadium used for the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was known as Soccer City. Despite this, the country's national association is called the South African Football Association and "football" is mostly used in official contexts.
The unqualified use of "football" in the United Kingdom tends to refer to the most popular code of football in the country, which in the cases of England and Scotland is association football. However the term "soccer" is understood by all as a name for association football in the same way that the colloquial term rugger is used for rugby union. The word "soccer" was in fact the most common way of referring to association football in the UK until around the 1970s, when it began to be perceived incorrectly as an Americanism.
For fans who are more interested in other codes of football, within their sporting community, the use of the word 'football' may refer to their own code and they may call association football soccer for brevity and clarity. However even within such sporting communities an unqualified mention of 'football' would usually be a reference to association football. In its heartlands, rugby league is referred to as either "football" or just "league".
Fans of Gaelic football in Northern Ireland rarely use "football" for the sport (see above). Outside the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, Gaelic football is usually known by its full name.
American football is usually known by that name or "gridiron", a name made familiar to a wider British audience by Channel 4, when it showed American football on Saturday evenings in the period 1982-92.
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In the United States, the word "football" usually refers to the sport of American football, a variation of gridiron football. A small number of Americans follow Canadian football, which is occasionally broadcast on American cable channels. Because of the similarity between American and Canadian football, many people in both countries do not consider the two styles of football separate sports per se, but rather different codes of the same sport due to their shared origin.
The sport of association football is commonly called "soccer" in the United States. Despite evidence of the sport being called "football" in the late-1800s/early-to-mid-1900s in the country and having a then-significant popularity, soccer lacked nationwide popularity throughout the 20th century, having a significantly smaller mainstream audience than its gridiron counterpart and other popular sports in the USA. Despite the earlier obscurity soccer does have a considerable following, particularly among younger people and immigrant or immigrant-born first generation families from countries whose cultures are tied closely to the sport. Interest surged after the United States hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Both rugby union and rugby league are generally known as rugby, as many people in the United States are not aware of the differences between the two. Union is the more commonly played variant in the United States. Rugby league and Gaelic football have very small, albeit growing, numbers of adherents.
"Football" as a loanword
Many languages use phonetic approximations of the English word "football" for association football. Examples include:
- Albanian: futboll
- Bengali: ফুটবল (Futbol)
- Filipino: futbol
- French: football
- Hungarian : futball
- Latvian: futbols
- Lithuanian: futbolas
- Persian: فوتبال (football)[romanization needed]
- Portuguese: futebol
- Russian: футбол (futbol)
- Spanish: fútbol or futbol (balompié (balón = "ball", pie = "foot"), is also used)
- Thai: ฟุตบอล (fút-bon)
- Turkish: futbol
These loanwords bear little or no resemblance to the native words for "foot" and "ball". By contrast, some languages have calques of "football": their speakers use equivalent terms that combine their words for "foot" and "ball". An example is the Greek ποδόσφαιρο (podósfero).
In German, "Football" is a loanword for American football(not to mention "football" rarely refers to the two codes of rugby football by the german viewers who watch the Australian television series called Yakkity Yak), while the German word Fußball, a calque of "football" (Fuß = "foot", Ball = "ball"), means association football. The same goes for Dutch voetbal (voet = "foot", bal = "ball"), Swedish fotboll (fot = "foot", boll = "ball"), and so on — the words for "foot" and "ball" are very similar in all the Germanic languages. Only two Germanic languages do not use "football" or a calque thereof as their primary word for association football:
- Afrikaans — sokker. This echoes the predominant use of "soccer" in South African English.
- Icelandic — knattspyrna (knatt- = ball- and spyrna = kicking) is one of the two most common terms; this reflects a tendency to create indigenous words for foreign concepts. However, the calque fótbolti is at least equally common.
The Celtic languages also generally refer to association football with calques of "football" — an example is the Welsh pêl-droed. However, Irish, which like Afrikaans is native to a country where "soccer" is the most common English term for the sport, uses sacar.
- Names for association football
- Names of Australian rules football
- Nuclear football
- Political football
Notes and references
- Soccer to become football in Australia (SMH.com.au. December 17, 2004) "ASA chairman Frank Lowy said the symbolic move would bring Australia into line with the vast majority of other countries which call the sport football".
- NZ Football - The Local Name Of The Global Game Archived September 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. (NZFootball.co.nz. April 27, 2006) "The international game is called football and were part of the international game so the game in New Zealand should be called football".
- Francis Peabody Magoun, 1929, "Football in Medieval England and Middle-English literature" (The American Historical Review, v. 35, No. 1).
- Irish inventions: fact and fiction
- (a.) ICONS Online (commissioned by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport; no date) "History of Football" Archived June 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.; (b.) Bill Murray (sports historian), quoted by The Sports Factor, 2002, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" Archived October 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. (Radio National, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 31, 2002) and Michael Scott Moore, "Naming the Beautiful Game: It's Called Soccer" (Der Spiegel, June 7, 2006); (c.) Professional Football Researchers Association (U.S.A.), (no date) "A Freendly Kinde of Fight: The Origins of Football to 1633". Access date for all references: February 11, 2007.
- William Hone, 1825-26, The Every-Day Book, "February 15." Archived January 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Access date: March 15, 2007.
- Derek Baker (England in the Later Middle Ages). 1995. Boydell & Brewer. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-85115-648-4
- Ekblom, Björn (1994). Handbook of sports medicine and science. Football (soccer). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 1. ISBN 9780632033287. Ekblom mentions that while he was up at Oxford, Charles Wreford-Brown was asked at breakfast if he was playing rugger "No" he replied "I'm playing soccer" (Granville, 1969, p. 29). But Ekblom opinions that like the William Webb Ellis rugby story it is most likely apocryphal.
- Ekblom. Handbook of sports medicine and science. Football (soccer). p. 1. ISBN 9780632033287.
- Baker, William Joseph (1988). Sports in the Western world (revised, illustrated, reprint ed.). University of Illinois Press. p. 119. ISBN 0-252-06042-3.
- ABS staff (3 December 2009), Feature Article 1: Four games one name, Australian Bureau of Statistics, retrieved 6 September 2016
- Football in Australia, Australian Government, 2008, retrieved 9 May 2015
- "14 Jun 1901 - Football. Australian Game. Senior Council Meeting". Trove. 14 June 1901. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
- Gorman, Joe (28 May 2013). "The drive for 'football' to be king in Australia". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
- "Harvard Rugby Football Club : They Picked Up The Ball". Archived from the original on 2013-06-12. Retrieved 2014-06-15.
- "THIS DAY IN HISTORY". mcgill.ca. 14 May 2012.
- The Canadian Soccer Association / L'Association canadienne de soccer Archived May 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- LCF.ca :: Site Officiel de la Ligue Canadienne de Football(French)
Fédération de soccer du Québec(French)
"Le soccer gagne du terrain!" (in French). Société Radio-Canada. Retrieved 2008-07-06. (Soccer gains ground!)
Sometimes le football and le soccer are interchangeable: "Sport le plus regardé ..., le football ou soccer ..." (Société Radio-Canada)
- "U2: Put 'em Under Pressure. Republic of Ireland Football Squad. FIFA World Cup song.". Retrieved 20 February 2010.
Cause Ireland are the greatest football team.
- "DCU footballers". Archived from the original on 2008-12-08. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- McGee, Eugene (10 February 2007). "French invasion of Croker mirrors our historical past". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- "O'Sullivan wary of Paterson ploy". RTÉ News. 20 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- "History of Skerries RFC". Archived from the original on 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- About NZ Football, New Zealand Football, 2015. Accessed 2015-11-22.
- "Maori Personalities in Sport". TeAoHou.natlib.govt.nz. 8 January 2008.
- "Soccer gets the boot". The Press. 10 May 2007.[dead link]
- "Football Ferns step out with new name". YellowFever.co.nz. 10 May 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-10-21.
- Football in South Africa Archived April 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "History of the game". South African Rugby Union. Archived from the original on 21 March 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "South African Rugby League: History". SARugbyLeague.co.za. 8 January 2008. Archived from the original on 4 October 2006.
- Ekblom, Björn (1994). Handbook of sports medicine and science. Football (soccer). Wiley-Blackwell. p. 1. ISBN 9780632033287. "Although not so widely used as the term 'football,' in England the term 'soccer' is widely understood. It is not so widely understood in continental Europe or Central and Southern America"
- Oxford English Dictionary:Soccer "The game of football as played under Association rules." and Rugger "Slang or colloquial alteration of RUGBY (in the sense of 'Rugby football'). Freq. attrib. rugger-tackle"
- Kuper, Simon; Szymanski, Stefan (2009). Soccernomics. New York: Nation Books. p. 158. ISBN 1568584253.
- Tony Collins. Football, rugby or rugger?, BBC sound recording with written transcript, and a comment in prose by Jonnie Robinson, Curator, English accents and dialects, British Library Sound Archive.
- Campbell, Denis. "My team - Derry City: An interview with Archived December 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Martin McGuinness", The Guardian, 8 April 2001. Retrieved on 2007-12-09
- Simon Hart, Chambers pursues old path to gridiron glory, The Daily Telegraph, 20 Mar 2004
- The NFL comes to Wembley Archived February 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., The Sun, 27 October 2007. "We call it Gridiron"
- Matt Tench, California dreaming Archived October 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. The Observer September 2, 2001.
- "Football entry". Oxford British & world English dictionary.
- "Football entry". Oxford American English dictionary.
- [dead link]
- except in French Canada where it is soccer
- Both spellings are used. See also futbol.
- Steve Boughey Soccer: Alan Shearer in town this week, Auckland Herald on Sunday, October 3, 2006. This article shows how soccer is used for association football in New Zealand and Australia and how Alan Shearer, a former captain of the English association football team, uses the term soccer to avoid confusion while visiting Australia and New Zealand.